To some people, Twitter is a dangerous place full of trolls blurting out horrid things, following you around and popping up when you least expect them to. But in the children's writing and illustration community this is not so. People are friendly, supportive, enthusiastic and reassuring, particularly to someone like me who two years ago knew nothing about Twitter and had just set off in search of The World of Publishing, hoping one day to find himself on bookshelves across the land.
It’s through Twitter I learnt about the SCBWI and its Undiscovered Voices competition. Having joined, I was spoiled for choice in picking which story starter extract to illustrate, but for me the one that leapt off the page was Maureen Lynas’ Sophie in Gargantua. Immediately I could picture the arch of the scene and Sophie’s trailing curls. An hour later I’d drawn the main characters, along with other bits and bobs, and went on to glue them together digitally.
|My winning image for SCBWI Undiscovered Voices 2014 based on |
Maureen Lynas’ story Sophie in Gargantua.
December arrived and so did an email that told me I’d won a place in the 2014 Undiscovered Voices anthology. The winning illustrators were all invited for a ‘portfolio intensive’ with Anne-Marie Perks, John Shelley, Bridget Strevens-Marzo and Loretta Schauer who were all incredibly supportive and generous with their advice. It was a rigorous and thought-provoking day and helped us prepare for the February launch to meet agents and publishers. Being in the anthology was wonderful; as a result I was offered representation by several agencies and I’m thrilled to be represented by Jodie Hodges at United Agents who fell in love with my Santa Claus:
|The image that got me ‘spotted’ on Twitter.|
|A rough and final image of the main character in Sarah Forbes’ |
Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs, published May 2015.
At the launch party I also met Fliss Johnston from Orion who liked my colour illustrations for younger readers. From meeting Fliss, I’m now writing and illustrating two books for the Early Readers series, published in 2016. For the artwork, I sketch in pencil then use crayon and a lightbox before colouring with watercolour and gouache (ramped up with Photoshop). This project is very dear to me and I can’t wait for the books to hit the shelves. I’m a great fan of Francesca Simon’s Horrid Henry and Kaye Umansky’s Algy’s Amazing Adventures. I can’t believe I’ll be part of the same series, especially with illustrators like Tony Ross and Richard Watson.
|The style of illustration for my books published by Orion in 2016.|
I’ve always found books compelling. It’s their smell and texture, the pause between the pages, the way the illustrations add even more to each narrative. I get lost in details. I’d pore over Errol Le Cain’s The Twelve Dancing Princesses and Arthur Rackham’s Peter Pan. I remember reading Dahl’s The Magic Finger over and over and listening to James and the Giant Peach and George’s Marvellous Medicine on my tape player so much that I’d have to wind the tangled tape back into the cassettes with a pencil. And then I’d spend hours drawing and painting at the dining room table, something my daughter Eliza loves doing now too. I’ve no idea where she gets it from… Rather than spreading out on the dining room table, I’ve now got a work station (which is strictly out of bounds to the cat and sticky-fingered children):
|Here is my bubble.|
Having a Twitter account and joining the SCBWI have made me realize how important it is to share your ideas and passion with other like-minded people. If you have a question about something, always ask. If there’s a conference or talk with your favourite authors and illustrators, go to it. Research. Contact people. Meet people. Act on advice. Read as much as you can – not only your favourite texts but also literature about publishing. Sketch then trace over using a lightbox. Overall, be flexible: people in the field know what they’re talking about.
Venturing into the world of children’s books has brought me one step closer to sitting on bookshelves for others to reach out and, hopefully, pore over. The help I’m enjoying along the way is due in no small part to the leg-up the SCBWI has given me.
Elspeth Hart and the School for Show-offs, written by Sarah Forbes and illustrated by James Brown, is released in May 2015. It is available for pre-order now.
See more of James' work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery.
Follow James on Twitter at: @jb_illustrates
He is represented by Jodie Hodges at United Agents